Washington SyCip was born to Albino SyCip, the lead incorporator of China Bank, and his wife Helen Bau on June 30, 1921. Up until he was five years old, Washington or Wash, as he was fondly called by family and friends alike, spent most of his years in Shanghai with his grandfather and mother. He was then brought back to Manila to pursue formal education.
A smart boy, Wash skipped three grade levels during his time in Padre Burgos Elementary School, where he would meet the equally talented Alfredo "Fred" Velayo, his loyal childhood and playmate, and the eventual “V” in SGV.
After graduating from Victorino Mapa High School, Wash decided to pursue accounting at the University of the Philippines before opting to shift to the University of Santo Tomas after just one semester. Being exceptionally bright and brilliant, he graduated in two and a half years as Summa Cum Laude at the humble age of 17.
Hungry for more knowledge, Wash stayed at UST to complete his master's degree while he taught his peers as an accounting professor. Not long after passing the board exam for certified public accountants (CPA) in the Philippines, Wash attended the Columbia University in New York to complete his post-graduate degree because he was still too young to receive a professional license to practice.
Though it was not easy, Wash thrived while getting his PhD. While studying, he also worked at Byrnes and Baker as a junior auditor to get spare cash on the side. He was the first Asian on their professional staff.
However, things changed when Pearl Harbor and the Clark Base were bombed in 1941. With the threat of World War II looming over everyone’s head, Wash had to put his doctoral dissertation on hold to join the Second Philippine Regiment of the U.S. Armed Forces.
After Wash learned about his father’s arrest by Japanese occupiers, he became determined to join the American military. Luckily enough, President Roosevelt had signed a law that allowed Filipinos in the US to serve, and so began a new period of his life.
Wash initially joined the U.S. Armed Forces, but eventually transferred to the U.S. Air Force for intelligence and cryptology work. He was sent to language school to learn Japanese before being stationed in Calcutta, India, where the British 14th Army had set up codebreaking operations. He served for two years until the war ended.
Eager to head home, Wash reunited with his family in Manila. Though there were many opportunities to work abroad, he saw the chance to help in post-war economic reconstruction. After securing his CPA license, Wash put up W. SyCip & Co at the Trade and Commerce Building in Binondo, Manila.
Before it became the international accounting giant that it is today, W. SyCip & Co. was a modest shingle firm that served smaller and medium-sized businesses. It was an underdog during its younger years, working in the shadows of well-connected international companies ran by foreigners. At the time, when he couldn’t compete with them head-on, Wash invested in his people. He chose those he trusted the most, took them under his wing, and trained them to their full potential. It helped that Wash had access to a new generation of accounting minds because he taught at three different schools—the Institute of Accountancy, the Philippine College of Commerce and Business Administration, and the University of Santo Tomas. In order to secure their loyalty to W. SyCip & Co, he promised the best and the brightest something other accounting giants could not: the possibility of becoming his partner.
During these early years, Wash did the hiring himself. Though he was no office tyrant, he held his employees to the highest standards. In fact, when Wash had to fly to the US after a couple of months to complete his six-month residency for his US Citizenship, there was only one man whom he could trust the entire company to—his old friend and school rival, the brilliant Fred Velayo. Though at the time Fred was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska, he rushed back home to the Philippines because he saw the potential in W. SyCip & Co. Velayo solidified his place in the company for decades.
Later in 1947, Wash took in Vicente “Enteng” Jose, a BIR tax examiner, as another partner. By the time he came on board, the company was already occupying a larger office space at the Trade and Commerce Building. And so, what was once a humble firm started to grow. It was briefly known as SyCip, Velayo, Jose, and Co. (SVJ), before its inevitable transformation into SGV.
While visiting the States in 1946, Wash rekindled his friendship with old childhood friend, Anna Yu. The Yus were longtime friends with the SyCips, as they owned one of the biggest Chinese businesses in Manila—Yutivo, Nothern Motors, and Southern Motors. Anna and Wash fell in love and were wed on November 27, 1948 at the Ellinwood Church in Manila. They then settled within the SyCip compound beside his father’s house. Their eldest daughter Vicky was born here in 1951.
In 1949, Wash saw an opportunity to purchase land in the new subdivision, Forbes Park. He built his family home there and the SyCips moved in sometime in the early 1950s.
It was also around this time that Wash joined the Junior Chamber of Commerce or the Jaycees, an authentic people's leadership training and development organization established by Ramon “Monching” del Rosario. Here, Wash met lifelong friends—Ramon del Rosario, Carlos Palanca, Roberto Villanueva, and Jose "Jobo" Fernandez to name a few. All made a name for themselves and helped boost the Philippine economy after World War II.
Wash had two sons after Vicky—George, born in 1956 and Robert, born in 1958. All three children saw the value in Wash’s hard work, and had tremendous respect for their father. Blessed with wisdom and good education from Wash, each forged their own paths in life while still remaining close to their parents.
Through the years, many things changed for Wash but one thing remained the same — a firm belief in Asia as a dynamic growth center that deserved respect and attention from the rest of the world. This motivation, along with his relentless drive, is what skyrocketed W. Sycip & Co. to fame; and allowed Wash and his partners to take on the multinationals.
Over the course of fifty years, SGV put up many branches, starting with their Cebu office, established on September 27, 1951 at the TUT Building in Cebu City. Other branches opened in other parts of the Philippines such as Davao, Bacolod, Iloilo, Subic, and Cavite, among others.
However, it wasn’t just the Philippines SGV took by storm. In 1962, Wash partnered with accountant T.N. Soong and set up the very first SGV firm outside the Philippines: in Taiwan. This served as Wash’s gateway to the rest of Asia, with expansions in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam from 1967-1971. The way Wash approached regional expansion echoed his reliable approach to business – he believed in the importance of investing in your people, and this was reflected in how SGV played a significant role in providing training and technical support to the local leaders in the regional offices.
By 1983, SGV had 4,000 Asian professionals working in 33 offices across 10 different Asian countries. And by SGV's 50th anniversary in 1996, the firm had clients from 350 locations in 74 countries around the world.
Though Wash dedicated most of his life to SGV, he never forgot to give back to those less fortunate than him. He strongly believed that successful corporations should give back to society through sustainable programs that help uplift the citizens of the Philippines — which is why Wash established the SGV Foundation on the 20th Anniversary of the company.
In an effort to make education more accessible to the Filipino people, the SGV foundation provided scholarships to support students taking up accounting, economics, business administration, computer science and more. The Foundation also empowered teachers to improve their craft through further education programs.
Wash did not stop there. In 1970, he also helped establish the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), that pledged to set aside 1% of multiple companies’ net income to help alleviate poverty. In order to further encourage Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the Philippine business world, AIM established the Ramon V. del Rosario Sr. Center for Corporate Responsibility in 1999 and the Asian Corporate Social Responsibility Awards in 2003.
Wash’s hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Through the years, he was awarded with several prominent recognitions such as the Outstanding Management Man of the Year in 1967, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation Award for International Understanding in 1992, and the Golden Medallion of Professional Excellence and Business Leadership in 2000. He also sat in various international boards through the years, including Caterpillar, AT&T, Owens-Illinois, and Chase Bank.
Though Wash had accomplished many things in life, his most enduring contribution to Asian business and education would be the establishment of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati in 1968.
The idea of AIM was set in motion by Ramon del Rosario Sr. and SGV managing partner Bobby Ongpin, with the help of Harvard's Graduate Business School. With the support of the Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University, the SGV Foundation put together a feasibility study under the leadership of Ongpin, and AIM’s charter members got together for the first time. Wash, who was once a young, wide-eyed, knowledge-hungry scholar, was elected chairman of AIM. Together with Steve Fuller, Associate Dean for External Affairs of Harvard Business School and AIM’s first-ever president, they solidified the reputation of AIM as a top-grade international management school and research institution.
In 1969, AIM held their first-ever class at the Ateneo campus along Padre Faura in Manila. Wash soon found a more permanent place for AIM with the help of the Ayalas, who donated 10,000sqm of land with an additional 3,000 to be set aside for future expansion. Eugenio ‘Eñing’ Lopez also donated P6.5 million to build AIM's first building and first dormitory. Other influential families made their contributions to the institute as well — including Monching and Chuchi del Rosario, Stephen and Gilbert Zuellig, Jobo and Toti Fernandez, and more. They all worked together in order to further Wash’s Asian Dream.
Washington SyCip’s biography, titled Wash: Only a Bookkeeper, is released.
The Firm founded the SGV Museum to serve as a repository for its rich traditions and history over the decades. It includes a memorabilia room, a room dedicated to Mr. SyCip, meeting rooms, and interactive modules on SGV’s history and Mr. SyCip’s life. It also serves as a gallery to showcase the SGV Foundation’s collection of fine paintings and artworks.
The Washington SyCip Garden of Native Trees garden, initiated by the Zuellig Group with 90 species of native trees, was opened in 2011 at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus in honor of Mr. SyCip.
In support of Mr. SyCip’s long-held belief that education is the greatest social equalizer, SGV presented a gift to the celebrant – the donation of an e-classroom at the Padre Burgos Elementary School – the very same educational institution where Mr. SyCip began his formal education. The gift represented how Mr. SyCip’s own educational journey had come full circle.
Mr. SyCip passed away peacefully in October 2017, at the age of 96. In his honor, the Firm continues to adhere to his vision to develop SGV into the largest multidisciplinary firm whose ultimate legacy to the country would be the quality of its people. His vision and values continue to be instilled in the hearts and minds of generations of SGV partners and staff committed to developing quality people and leaders who contribute to the progress of the country.